The election of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States is a breathtaking development not just because an African-American winning enough votes to be America’s leader is a milestone but because it also has shattered various assumptions.
The phrase “transformational leader” now seems to join the words “defining moment” as a new overused cliche. But transformations can also be untransformed. What is most fascinating is how many assumptions Obama’s election has shattered.
Here are just a few that seem to have been blown to smithereens:
*The assumption that a community organizer is to be disdained — or underestimated. If Obama’s get-out-the-vote results are taken into account, the GOP could have used some of the same community organizers that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and others felt worthy of open disdain and mockery.
*The assumption that young voters are all just talk, talk, talk when it comes to voting. Obama had young voters standing in lines at universities and in cities. And if you watched the video of his speech from Chicago last night, the crowd was peppered with young people. (The Obama campaign used text-messaging to get some young voters to the polls…)
*The assumption that if one side runs a very nasty and personal campaign the other side must respond in exactly in kind. Obama was a study in determination — staying the bulk of the time solidly on message…a message usually centered on issues.
*The assumption that American voters are like light switches and if a hot-button is pushed they will automatically be turned on and do the political bidding of whomever pushed the button. All the efforts to hint that Obama with his Muslim sounding name was somehow sympathetic to terrorists did only one thing — play to the perceptions and biases of those who would have voted for McCain anyway. The last minute effort to portray Obama as a socialist clearly didn’t work and perhaps scared some independent voters away (but it could be argued that was a genuine debate over economic policy philosophies..). Exit polls found the economy was the first issue on voters’ minds — but not from the standpoint of fear that socialists taking over the economy, but fear and anger about how a Republican administration fared in managing it.
*The assumption that a candidate can take a chance by campaigning almost exclusively to his or her base in the general election. Perhaps because he was so burned by his own party’s conservative base in 2000, McCain — from his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate to his last minute embrace of a politically toxic Vice President Dick Cheney’s endorsement — seemed unable to diversify his focus from trying to win over his own party’s Bush-faction and social conservative base….a base that had shrunk since 2004. Obama kept trying to consolidate John Kerry’s 2004 support and expand his party’s traditional coalition and get new voters to the polls.
*The assumption that women voters will automatically vote for a woman candidate on a ticket because she is a woman. When Republican candidate John McCain picked Gov. Sarah Palin as his choice, it was assumed by many she’d win over irate Hillary Clinton supporters and many women who wanted a woman to serve in one of the highest offices in the land. But just Jews won’t automatically vote for Jewish politicians, whites won’t automatically vote for white candidates, that assumption proved faulty. Palin satisfied part of the GOP base but her selection also led to the loss of voters from another part of the GOP’s base and turned off many others — including many women.
*The assumption that people who oppose a candidate can repeat their middle name (in Obama’s case Hussein) and if it’s foreign-sounding or Muslim-sounding it will be detrimental.
*The assumption that tough talking conservative talk show hosts and conservative pundits know what’s best in a general election political campaign. Go back and read stories about some key McCain decisions. He seemingly followed advice given by talk show host Rush Limbaugh and conservative columnist Bill Kristol — advice that lost him support since Limbaugh, Kristol, Sean Hannity and some other professional conservatives are professional ideologues who make their living throwing red meat to a hungry choir.
(NOTE: Don’t expect some professional talkers to give Obama any honeymoon from the hot-button wars. Last night a southern California conservative talk show host heard by this writer said he wants his “country back” and referred to the incoming Obama administration as the “socialist Marxist regime.”)
*The assumption that you can win an election by almost totally ignoring the country’s center, even though the center may shift from center to center right to center left.
*The assumption that anything but a pull-out-all-stops effort to win over independent voters will be anything but risking political defeat in a general election. Polls showed that McCain didn’t help himself by running a negative campaign and getting blamed for it by a large chunk of independents.
*The assumption that politicians can almost totally shed past personas and get away with it. Few have been able to do it. One was Richard Nixon, who emerged as “the new Nixon” after his 1960 defeat. But Al Gore paid a price for changing his personality in his 2000 debates. The 2008 McCain was unlike the 2000 McCain. The McCain in debates was cranky, angry and mugging to the cameras — not the same as the 2000 McCain or the McCain who appeared on Saturday Night Live. Throughout his campaign Obama showed the public one consistent personality.
*The assumption that candidates only have to fear the news media. In fact, in 2008 the growth and popularity of online and cable satire and comedy and the born again Saturday Night Live likely had an influence bigger than traditional news media coverage in shaping the perceptions of voters — particularly younger voters.
There are others as well.
Here’s a roundup of news media and weblog reaction to Obama’s election:
Democratic Senator Barack Obama has been elected the first black president of the United States.
“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight… change has come to America,” the president-elect told a jubilant crowd at a victory rally in Chicago.
His rival John McCain accepted defeat, saying “I deeply admire and commend” Mr Obama. He called on his supporters to lend the next president their goodwill.
The BBC’s Justin Webb said the result would have a profound impact on the US.
“On every level America will be changed by this result… [it] will never be the same,” he said.
McCain: ‘We must work together’
Mr Obama appeared with his family, and his running mate Joe Biden, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Grant Park, Chicago.
Many people in the vast crowd, which stretched back far into the Chicago night, wept as Mr Obama spoke.
Sen. Barack Obama built his victory in Florida, a state that has been synonymous with heartbreak for many Democrats since 2000, by following the blueprint of Democrats before him — and then systematically improving upon their numbers.
Most dramatic was his win among Hispanics, whom former White House political guru Karl Rove had avidly wooed. Four years ago, President Bush won 56 percent of the Latino vote in the state, thanks primarily to the influence of conservative Cuban-Americans. But this year, Hispanics swung to the Democratic column, giving the candidate from Illinois 57 percent of their votes, according to network exit polls. Another boost to Obama: Turnout among Latinos was up from 2004.
Although the majority of Floridians said race was not a factor in their decision, the black-white divide this year closely resembled the state’s racial split in 2004. The difference was the margins. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) drew about the same level of support from white voters as Bush did four years ago, but Obama’s margin among black residents — who also turned out in larger numbers to back the first black major-party presidential nominee — was nearly 10 percentage points higher than the one in 2004 for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee freshman Samantha Niedfeldt walked out of her polling place in the Sandburg Residence Halls on Tuesday afternoon with a smile on her face and her hands in the air and exclaimed, “I voted!”
For Niedfeldt, a first-time voter, the war in Iraq was major motivation to choose Democrat Barack Obama. So was the near-constant campaigning on campus.
“There’s been a lot of campaigning at school, so I started looking at stats between the two,” said Niedfeldt, 18, of La Crosse. “I felt like I was doing my duty, and I can impact what’s going on in the country.”
Several first-time voters in Milwaukee said Tuesday that they were energized by the opportunity to participate in history. The war in Iraq, the economy and education topped their list of key issues.
Polls and surveys leading up to Tuesday’s election suggested first-time voters such as Niedfeldt – most of whom are under 30 – could have a significant impact on the election because they favored Obama 2-to-1. Early exit polls showed young voters were supporting Obama by the same margin, with his greatest support coming from black and Hispanic young people.
The results are from a random sample of more than 13,000 voters in election day exit polls and telephone interviews over the past week for early voters, conducted for The Associated Press.
In Wisconsin, exit polls found one in 10 voters cast ballots for the first time, and of those, 68% favored Obama, compared with 30% for Republican John McCain.
Early surveys of voters, conducted by a consortium of news organizations, indicated 60% listed the economy as their most important issue, with no other issue — including the war on Iraq and terrorism — getting more than 10%.
More than 80% of voters said they were very worried the current economic crisis will harm their family’s finances over the next year, but 47% also said they felt the economy will improve in the next year. Two-thirds said they were worried about obtaining health care.
Only 28% of those polled said they approved of President Bush’s job performance — an issue Obama hammered on throughout the campaign as he tried to tie McCain to Bush.
Many votes had been cast for days. Though the overall number of early votes was unknown, there were more than 29 million ballots cast in 30 states, suggesting an advantage for Obama.
Obama’s victory triggered celebrations in the U.S. and around the world.
In Washington, residents poured into the streets. Hundreds of people gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, dancing and cheering. At historically black Howard University, students hugged and chanted “Yes, we did.”
Historian Robert Dallek calls Obama’s election both a reaction to the nation’s economic woes and a repudiation of President Bush’s eight years in power.
“There is this passion for a shift,” Mr. Dallek says. “One party wears out its welcome. The conservative movement has been in the saddle for quite a while. Now there’s an impulse to shift ground.”
As elections go, he adds, this one could be compared to 1960, when John F. Kennedy overcame concerns about his faith and became the first Catholic president. The election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 also contains parallels to today, with a Democrat sweeping to power in the face of daunting economic challenges. Others raise the analogy of 1980, when Ronald Reagan rode his conservative movement to Washington, also promising hope and change.
Like Reagan’s campaign, Obama’s began as a movement – defeating the powerful political machine of Hillary Rodham Clinton on his way to the Democratic nomination – and managed to maintain that sense of youthful optimism all the way to Election Day. At age 47, Obama will be one of the youngest American presidents to take office; his young family provides another echo of Kennedy’s election.
Obama’s election also broke new ground in the mechanics of campaigning. His campaign used the Internet, e-mail, and social-networking sites as community-organizing tools more effectively than any campaign in history. On fundraising, Obama opted out of public financing – the first nominee to do so since the advent of the system in 1976 – and raised at least $600 million from more than 3 million donors, another feat that defied expectations
HERE’S A CROSS-SECTION OF WEBLOG OPINION:
Bush’s re-election in 2004 was a monument to the power of fear. And McCain, his staff stocked with Karl Rove disciples, followed the Bush blueprint and played the fear card again and again.
Be afraid of Obama, the GOP warned us. Be afraid of something new, something different. He would meet with our enemies. His middle name is Hussein. He “pals around with terrorists,” consorts with the radicals at Acorn (which is “destroying the fabric of democracy”), and doesn’t see America “like you and I see America.” A vote for Obama would be “dangerous” and “too risky for America.”
The people of America listened, but chose to take the risk. So even if you voted for John McCain; even if you love Sarah Palin, who is still in search of the “pro-American areas of this great nation”; even if are Joe the Plumber – or, hell, even if you are Michele Bachmann – tonight is a night to be proud of America.
As voters stepped into the polls, they came armed with their opinions, their emotions, their gut feelings, their peer pressure, their community organizers’ suggestions and a variety of other decision-making tools that will never supplant bare-bones knowledge on the issues.
….Only 36 percent of Pew respondents could name Vladimir Putin as the president of Russia – even when he’d been president for nearly eight years. Only two-thirds could name their own state’s governor. Sixty-nine percent could even identify our vice president, even with Dick Cheney’s starring role as the butt of liberal jokes. Just 37 could peg the chief justice of the Supreme Court as leaning conservative, and even fewer respondents, 32 percent, could name Sunni as the Islam branch opposite Shia. And on, and on.
Too many American voters sleepwalk through the world, and yet lined up to pick the next leader of the free world. And now, Barack Obama, you have the weight of the world on your shoulders – a world where many of its inhabitants would like to see a weaker United States so that they can feel stronger themselves, and have won agreement from many on the American left. You have constituents and global onlookers alike who think that the reputation of the U.S. is paramount to doing the right – even if unpopular – thing.
Obama’s victory holds up a mirror, reflecting the country we are. And it turns out to be the kind of country we’ve always imagined ourselves being — even if in the last seven-plus years we fell horribly short: a young country, an optimistic country, a forward-looking country, a country not afraid to take risks or to dream big.
Wow wow wow, this is fantastic news to wake up to. I’ve been waiting for eight years to be able to say the following three words: NO MORE BUSH! Aaaaahhh…
Thank you America!
There’s a reason why Republicans are called the “Stupid Party.”
Just look at this year. They had a great candidate who had the right ideas, but they dumped him in the primaries. They wouldn’t even let him talk at their convention in Minnesota!
I’m talking about Ron Paul.
Instead, they nominated a burned-out old warmonger “maverick” centrist bound to lose, McCain.
It won’t come as much of a surprise to those who actually have followed the numbers, but it looks like Barack Obama is overwhelmingly carrying the Jewish vote.
— Hot Air’s Allahpundit. We’ll run this one in full here:
One of the last things Dean Barnett said to me was that, as best he could tell, Barack Obama is “a good guy and a decent man.” I don’t think he’d mind me telling you that, especially under the circumstances. It’s a testament to his generosity of spirit that even in the heat of a campaign, with every reason to think the worst of his opponent, Dean couldn’t help but give him the benefit of the doubt. That’s Barnett all over, and that’s what made him an indispensable man whom we’ve been forced, horrendously, to dispense with.
I offer that as comfort to those of you who have no faith in The One but who do have faith in, and abiding affection for, DB. My guess is he’d have handled the news tonight with the same magnanimity that distinguished all of his writing. So in that spirit, congratulations to Barry O on a race superbly run and to our country for not having let the wrong reasons deter it from making the wrong choice. I’ll never be a fan, but I swear I’ll never take a nutroots posture either in relishing his failures because it helps my party. Like it or not, he’s my president. As a great man once said, country first.
So the pitching devotees assembled in Chicago, where a mafia-like machine spat out Obamas by the hundreds thirty years ago, will probably find that the vessel will not take precisely the shape their liquids wanted, and that this very acutely silly election has not produced change at all, but little more than an ejaculation—maybe even a healthy one—that was a long time in coming.
For the moment, we can appreciate a genuinely cartoonish moment. Some time soon, the president-elect is finally going to have to reveal what he meant all this time by “change.” He’ll either have no answer—or his answer is going to disappoint the happy, doting, lovably dopey moderates who voted him into office. If small-government, pro-growth, free-market, family-first, personal-responsibility conservatives can get their house in order, 2012 is a golden haze on the meadow. Wait, that’s Rodgers and Hammerstein.
You see? The American song goes on. Meanwhile, let’s wish the next President good luck.
–In her live blogging, Ann Althouse captures a moment:
10:00: CNN projects Obama as the winner!
10:01: I’ve been sitting here feeling completely cool and calm all evening. But that announcement — that Obama has won — gave me chills, made me almost cry. Something big has happened.
10:13: Karl Rove says “Every American should celebrate.” That’s on Fox, where there is some sedate but sincere celebration of the historic achievement: the first black President.
Booker Rising congratulates Sen. Barack Obama on his historic achievement last night in securing the U.S. presidency. Can’t hate on 44’s day, so here goes the speech that has Oprah Winfrey and Rev. Jesse Jackson in tears….[HAS VIDEO]…VIDEO OF THE DAY: Obama’s Acceptance Speech
Booker Rising congratulates Sen. Barack Obama on his historic achievement last night in securing the U.S. presidency. Can’t hate on 44’s day, so here goes the speech that has Oprah Winfrey and Rev. Jesse Jackson in tears…While I disagree with most of his policy positions, I’m proud when black folks break barriers and tread new ground that was previously thought impossible. Especially when they are from my hometown of Chicago. Props to President-Elect Obama.
I think the untold story of the night is just how horribly we underperformed in the House. I don’t want to take away from our incredible victory, but it did not translate to huge coattails in the House…
It is an extraordinary thing, an achievement that will be recognized a hundred years hence, that Barack Obama has won the White House. Even those of us who opposed him, and who will no doubt be opposed to many of his policy objectives over the next four years, must pause and say congratulations on an improbable, amazing rise.
Every American ought to pray for wisdom and judgment for President-elect Obama, for his safety and the safety of his country, and for the continued prosperity and greatness of America.
–Like Ann Althouse, James Joyner also captured the drama of the moment:
With the polls now closed in California, FOX News has officially called the election for Barack Obama as of 11 Eastern, trailing OTB by more than two hours.
Juan Williams is choking up at the significance of a black man being elected president. It is indeed quite incredible.
Bill Kristol notes, too, that Obama will do it getting more votes than any president ever and with the highest percentage of the vote than any non-incumbent since Dwight Eisenhower.
Copyright 2008 The Moderate Voice